TOKYO/SEOUL – South Korea, Japan and the United States have condemned North Korea for launching four ballistic missiles on Monday (Mar 6) morning, three of which Japan said landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The missiles were fired at around 7.34am local time (6.34am Singapore time) from an area near the north-western Dongchang-ri missile site. Three of them landed in waters about 300km to 350 km from Oga Peninsula in Akita prefecture, said Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada.
Mr Abe told reporters: “The latest launches of ballistic missiles clearly demonstrate evidence of a new threat from North Korea.”
He added that Japan does not tolerate such repeated acts of aggression from the reclusive state and instructed a task force to investigate the missile launches.
South Korea's Acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn lambasted North Korea's missile launches in a national security meeting on Monday morning. "This is an act of outright defiance to the international society and a serious provocation," he said.
He also called for an early deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-missile system to guard against North Korea, adding that the South Korean government will “respond unwaveringly and with determination” to any threats from the North.
US national security adviser H.R McMaster, in a phone call with his South Korean counterpart Kim Kwan Jin, also condemned the provocations. The two agreed to enhance bilateral cooperation in imposing sanctions and exerting pressure on the North.
It is unclear exactly what type of missiles were fired, but North Korea is banned by the United Nations from any test of missile or nuclear technology.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the missiles flew about 1,000km before landing and reached a maximum altitude of roughly 260 km. The JCS is conducting an analysis on the type of missiles fired.
It said the missile launch is an apparent protest against the ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and its security ally United States. The annual Foal Eagle exercise started last Wednesday and will last for two months.
Separately, a spokesman from the ruling Liberty Korea Party, formerly known as Saenuri Party, issued a statement to condemn the missile launch, calling the Kim Jong Un regime “incorrigible”.
The US military said it detected and tracked what it assessed was a North Korean missile launch, but added the launch did not pose a threat to North America.
US Strategic Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Martin O’Donnell said US forces remain vigilant in the face of North Korea's provocations and are fully committed to working closely with South Korea and Japan to maintain security.
Monday’s launches come three weeks after Pyongyang fired a new form of high-thrust solid fuel-powered intermediate-range ballistic missile on Feb 12, which it claimed can carry a nuclear warhead.
Analysts have seen that as a step up in the isolated state's nuclear capabilities, as it strives towards its stated ambition of creating an intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the United States.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told an emergency press conference on Monday that Tokyo is working to quickly confirm the safety of aircraft and ships in the area, though there are currently no reports of any damage.
Last Friday, Pyongyang threatened to launch more provocations if the US-Korea military exercise continues.
The official newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned in a commentary that North Korea will launch "new types of strategic weapons" if Seoul and Washington continue the annual drills, which Pyongyang deems as war preparation against the state.